Freediving is a very misunderstood type of aquatic sport, one that seems to be better known in Europe where world-class athletes descend to incredible depths of more than 300 feet. It can be risky at the professional level, cold and dark at exaggerated depths. True pros can hold their breath for an incredible eight (8!) minutes plus, and have physically transformed their minds and bodies through rigorous training regimens, diet and meditation.

I don’t do that.

In fact, I have little interest in going to depth just for the sake of the achievement (although I applaud those that risk it to reach their goals). I do, however, enjoy the challenge of freediving, essentially breath-hold diving to both experience the undersea world unencumbered with bulky gear. To do this, it is simple: gather up your snorkel gear, find a suitable reef (or open water, known as “blue water” diving), take a big breath and descend. Once down, the experience becomes that of being one with the ocean. You can move very quickly through the water, streamlined and free to twist, kick and paddle until your breath runs out. there is a certain connection to the ocean one feels when freediving; you feel part of nature rather than a visitor, just another fish cruising the depths. It is fun, easy to do and cheap, and you can do it just about anywhere there is water deep enough to “get down”.

FreedivingI began freediving inadvertently, simply holding my breath as a kid when I swam. I made my parents a bit nuts I think, as I preferred to be under water doing the frog kick than learning the Australian Crawl during swim lessons; it just felt natural for me to be underwater, instead of fighting the waves and being pushed around on the surface.

Subsequently, I continued to breath-hold dive in pools, rivers and beaches, not really knowing that there was not only a term for what I was doing, but even an organized sport and specialized gear. Most of us that swim hold our breath and descend at one time or another; few realize that there are amazing discoveries waiting for those that choose to take it to the next level.

The first time I went to Eleuthera, Bahamas, I had just been certified to SCUBA dive. I passed my open-water exam, and headed to the Islands to try it in the open ocean. I love diving, and continue to do so to this day. But what I also discovered was a series if reefs just off the coast on the Atlantic side. The ocean there is very wavy, with small breakers and a strong surge. I tried to dive off the beach, but realizing that the deepest parts were no more than twenty feet, I gave up after two dives and began to snorkel. Breath-hold diving with a snorkel does take some getting used to: the snorkel fills with water as you go under, and it can take a lot of breath to blow it clear (breath you burn up holding air in your lungs as you go below). Modern snorkels are very good at clearing when you surface, making this process more tolerable. Still, it takes a bit of practice.

The other key is to learn how to clear your ears. I had the advantage of being a diver, so this was easy, but some may find it hard. Plug your nose and blow gently, until your ears “clear” or pop—similar to the sensation you get when traveling via airplane. As you go down, you clear, and the pain in your ears goes away as you equalize the pressure on both sides of your eardrum. Sounds horrible, but it is actually quite easy once you do it a few times.

The other challenge is descending. This can be done by kicking up into a pike position, allowing your legs to be overhead as you point straight down. This darts you to the bottom (or to your max depth) and then you can old position there with simple moves of your hands. Again, this is easier with practice, and you can try it in a pool or lake to get the coordination of kicking up, descending, clearing and then holding at depth.

Once there, it is amazing what you can see and do. After years of practice, I am able to hold position with minimal movement; move freely and casually through the water; stalk fish and glide up to other sea creatures quietly, with no bubbles or noise to scare them away. I have reached depths of 50-60′, and although I have little breath at that depth can still enjoy the sights and sounds of diving unimpeded.

it is a strange, wonderful feeling, and one that can be experienced in nearly any body of water at minimal cost. I have a friend that goes freediving with me when I SCUBA dive, reaching similar depths as me (although he makes a number of trips to the surface). There is a natural high that accompanies this activity, and it is a great work out. Best of all, it is very inexpensive.

The next time you go swimming, give it a try. Breath-hold diving, or freediving, can be very rewarding, and a different take on snorkeling or SCUBA diving with low costs and good health benefits. And it is fun!

Written by Jesse Siglow